HANDS-ON BY THEANO NIKITAS
One of the latest additions to Tamron’s SP series of prime
lenses, the 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD is designed for full-frame
DSLRs. According to Tamron, it’s the first lens in its class to
offer image stabilization—or “Vibration Control” in the company’s
parlance—which is a welcome addition to a focal length that’s a staple
among wedding and portrait photographers. Image stabilization
alone would be enough to entice us to try out this lens, but its f/1.8
aperture and $749 pricetag are equally appealing.
The lens is currently available in Canon and Nikon mounts. A Sony
DSLR A-mount will be available at a later date, although without
vibration correction (Sony DSLRs offer in-camera image stabilization).
I tested the lens on a Nikon D4S.
This lens is sharp across the frame. Detail capture was very
good and, even in high-contrast shots, chromatic aberration was
minimal. Background blur was generally soft and pleasing, creating
an effective amount of separation of the foreground subject. In good
light, autofocus was fast, accurate and, although not totally silent, quiet
enough to use during a wedding ceremony.
The Nikon version of this lens measures 3. 5 inches in length,
weighs 23. 3 ounces and is only slightly smaller and lighter than the
Canon model. Interestingly, though, the Nikon 85mm f/1.4G (which is
currently my go-to 85mm lens) is even lighter and smaller, despite its
faster aperture. Although I expected the new lens to be lighter than
it is, logically the additional weight makes sense with the addition
of a Vibration Control system. That said, the Tamron SP 85mm felt
well-balanced on the D4S and operated smoothly for both manual
and autofocus. The AF/MF and VC On/Off switches are conveniently
located and snap easily into place when changing settings. And
there’s a manual focus override even when the lens is set to AF.
Solidly built, the Tamron SP 85mm offers moisture protection, with
seals around the AF/MF and VC switches as well as between the focus
ring and the lens barrel. The lens also features an ultrasonic silent
drive (USD) that promises to deliver fast AF. Both the Canon and Nikon
versions are built around low dispersion (LD) and extra low dispersion
(XLD) glass elements, and the Nikon mount offers an electromagnetic
diaphragm—a feature that’s standard for Canon mounts but has also
been supported on a number of new Nikon DSLRs and NIKKOR
lenses. In addition to anti-reflective coatings, the SP 85mm also
features a fluorine coating on the front lens element to help repel grit
and grime and make it easier to remove smudges and dirt.
WHAT WE LIKED
It’s no surprise that the integration of image stabilization is a
plus and comes in handy when shooting in low light. Tamron estimates
about 3. 5 stops of IS, which allowed me to shoot at 1/15th of a second
when stopped down to at least f/3.5. If you have steadier hands than I,
THE TAMRON SP 85MM F/1.8
A fast prime lens gets image stabilization.